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The Loss of Innocence

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
November 15, 2021

The recent upsurge of religious voices calling upon God to intervene in the carnival of atrocities that our country is experiencing occurred when the corpse of 26-year-old Kezia Janeka Guerra was found in a shallow grave in Maracas, St. Joseph. Father Knolly Clarke intoned: "I am concerned about this violence against women. There is violence permeating society. I don't know what's wrong with the men. It's a challenging time, especially during Covid-19 time. Then you have to deal with violence against people all the time. It's a sad moment in our history. I think we need to run programmes that would help people to understand each other. Teach young men and women to respect each other." (Express, November 6).

The words of community activist Gaye Lynch were intriguing: "The violence against women is alarming in such a small country. I don't think enough is being done to protect women. We need to break generational curses. This has to start with the younger people. We need to understand that disrespect, sexual violations and violence are not acceptable. We must keep this awareness alive and build memorials to honor those who have died. We cannot forget them" (Guardian, November 8).

Although I am not too sure what Lynch meant by "generational curses," I know that the murderous violence that is perpetrated upon our women lies much more deeply within the unbridled passions of our national psyche. Some of us look at this violence and think, as Anglican Archdeacon Kenley Baldeo, my mother's favorite pastor, declared: "People are wicked and evil to their fellow men [and women]. It's only the hands of God to turn back the hands of menů.If people don't have access to the throne of Almighty God, then Satan will be in control. The only place to find solace during these trying times is in the arms of God" (Express).

I do not believe human beings are wicked and evil. While the arms of God may offer solace, we still inhabit this world with its trials and tribulations. The violence we see around us, physical, moral, and ethical, is the products of a society that has lost its way and is groping to find itself in this restless world of things and commodities.

Trinidad and Tobago is a disorderly and disordered society. The violence that is perpetrated against our women is only one symptom of the undisciplined approach we take to solving national problems. The strong and compelling emotions we bring to our everyday lives are revealed in how we speak to one another, how we treat the public purse, and how we pursue our vocations and social callings.

Dr. Eric Williams, the father of our nation, included "discipline" as one of our national watchwords. I am not sure if those "irrelevancies" of that bygone age are even taught at our schools. It might be one of the generational curses of which Lynch speaks and one to which we must pay immediate attention.

In the "Second Coming," William Butler Yeats, laments: "Turning and turning in the widening gyre/ The falcon cannot hear the falconer;/ Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; /Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,/ The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/ The ceremony of innocence is drowned;/ The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity."

Chinua Achebe used one of Yeats's metaphors to compose his world-acclaimed novel, Things Fall Apart, to talk about the disintegration of a fictional African society. While Yeats and Achebe knew that things fall apart when anarchy is loosed upon the land, we sometimes forget the last three lines of the first stanza that suggest that an earlier time was much more organized and presumably people acted in a much more principled manner.

One frightening implication of Yeats's nightmarish scenario is that when people lack connection with their time and place they tend to be paralyzed by feelings of hopelessness and inertia. While the best people may lack all conviction, the worst may be "full of passionate intensity" and this leads to chaos.

Roman Catholic Vicar General Fr. Martin Sirju captured this sense of our alienated condition. He noted: "People who abuse women or stalk them points to patterns of socialization. How do we treat [sic] adult men to be in control of their emotions? They allow passion to consume them. They rape and abuse young children and women. You have to work on the domestic and national fronts. You have to work on the religious fronts" (Express).

There is a sense of our being unhinged, existing on the periphery of our time and place, and a feeling that we are going toward an unknown and unknowable destination. Were you to ask the prime minister or the leader of the opposition where s/he wants to take his/her nation, I am not too sure either of them could answer that question in a few short sentences.

Fr. Knolly Clarke was onto something when he said: "The ruin of a nation begins in the home. If we don't train our young men and women to respect each other, we will continue to have chaos. It will not matter how many police we put on the streets. Every organization has to take responsibility. The teachers have to step up" (Express).

There can be no more urgent social business than convening our citizenry into different groups, either under private or governmental organization, religious or community groups, to discuss where we want our nation to go and what values are important to us. We cannot return to the innocence of our past, but we can plan more deliberately to create a state where decency rules.

Prof. Cudjoe's email address is scudjoe@wellesley.edu. He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.

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